if [tribe] =

Chapter 5

MARCH 7, 2029
8:32 A.M.

Bridge woke with a snorting start, his head snapping up off the couch. He spent a dozy moment getting his bearings before realizing he hadn't even moved from the sitting position he'd had the previous evening. The television was playing with the sound turned off, its harsh light causing Bridge to blink with watery eyes. The place was dark, as usual, the blinds blocking the morning sun, all the lights off. He rubbed the stubble on his chin groggily, then set himself to his waking ritual. The burden of the day's upcoming agenda weighed heavily on his shoulders. He would have to make contact with Diablos' leadership, who were already openly hostile to him, and try to turn that hostility into a peaceful resolution. He put the odds somewhere between 'what the fuck are you thinking' and 'sometime after the sun explodes and kills us all.' Stonewall had a nasty habit of calling in markers at the worst times.

Once dressed and presentable, he strolled through the bedroom once more, searching in vain for Angela. The bed was unmade but cold. The lonely hum of her crèche confirmed his suspicion. She was still doing a deep run. He kissed his fingers and planted the kiss lightly on the crèche's shiny black surface before striding out.

He sent out a wireless taxi call as he walked down to Mu's apartment. He raised his hand to knock, but the door swung open with a creepy slowness before he could make contact. He had gotten used to the technomancer's flair for the dramatic. Mu's place was dark, the only light coming from a circle of candles on the barren floor. Mu sat in the lotus position, eyes closed, the only movement coming from his fingers which twinkled and danced. Bridge strode in with a cheeky grin and leaned against the wall. "OMMMMMMMM," he intoned with a giggle.

Mu didn't even flinch. "Very funny. This is actually quite comfortable. Helps me get up in my chi."

"What's with the wiggles?"

"Casting a spell. Trying to, anyway. It's not working out that well." His eyes snapped open and he stood with a fluid energetic bounce.

"What are you trying to do?"

"Learn to fly."

"You guys can do that?" Bridge asked with mock incredulity. Of course, Bridge knew that some of the technomancers could fly. His memory flashed back to the image of Wong floating over the soccer fields at the university in Boulder, his hands manipulating his team of metallic golems with the invisible strings of the mana engine's magic. But Bridge couldn't reveal his silent partnership with the technomancers' Council of Five to an initiate like Mu.

"Some of us can," Mu said and left it at that. "Time for work?"

Bridge nodded. "Yah. We got to go pick up Aristotle, then we get to the impossible task of creating peace between two mortal enemies."

Mu crossed his arms, his hands disappearing into the loose black sleeves of the hooded silk shirt he wore. The gleam of tiny golden runes up the sleeves distracted Bridge momentarily. He recognized the runes as part of the language Lydia had been developing for the technomancers. She had begun to relish the theatrical nature of a guild of wizards. Bridge found it oddly humorous that a cadre of science-y geeks took to the fanciful mythology they had created so eagerly. "Why are you still working with that guy?" Mu asked with obvious irritation in his voice.

"What guy? Aristotle? Why shouldn't I?"

"You got me, for one. For two, he's mostly piss-drunk and late."

"He's been here longer than you, and saved my ass more times than I care to count."

"But he's just a human. He can't do this." Mu flashed a hand at Bridge, a gout of flame exploding momentarily from the palm.

"Maybe not, but there's something to be said for brute force and intimidating physical presence. And he's smarter than you and me combined."

Mu gave up the argument with a shrug. "Whatever, man. It's your money."

By the time they'd reached the street, the taxi had arrived. Bridge was pleased to see that he knew the driver, a skinny Arab named Hasan. Hasan was also one of Bridge's clients. The young driver had had a hankering for the forbidden pork. Rather than completely break his religion's tenets, he had insisted Bridge find the man a halal butcher who was willing to slaughter and prepare pork despite Islam's prohibition. Bridge knew a guy, Hasan got his blessed yet forbidden meat, and Bridge got a 50% discount on taxi rides when Hasan was available.

Bridge left Mu with the taxi idling. Knocking on Aristotle's door was fruitless, so Bridge used his key. The door was unlocked, however. Bridge flattened himself against the wall, and peeked into the room slowly. Aristotle lay half-on half-off the couch snoring loudly. Bridge relaxed. He entered the living room and slammed the door with a bang, waking the bodyguard with a violent start.

"Goddamnit, Bridge," he began, wincing and grabbing his head. "Don't you know how to knock?"

"I did knock, brother. And your door was unlocked."

"Huh. Must have forgotten to lock it."

"Bit dangerous what with everything that happened last night." Bridge strode into the room and picked up the empty bottle of gin sitting on the coffee table. "You empty this last night?"

"I've had that bottle a week."

Bridge grinned. "Cheap date."

"My tolerance is most definitely not at your exorbitant level. I'll catch up. Do I have time for a shower?"

"Taxi's waiting, but yeah. Hasan's at the wheel."

Aristotle nodded and stood. He grabbed a new bottle of gin off the kitchen counter, cracked the seal and took a quick slug. "Hair of the dog, as the colloquialism goes."

"You think you're maybe hitting that stuff a bit too much lately?" Bridge hesitated to bring it up, and instantly regretted it the moment the words left his lips. Aristotle's smoldering glare was answer enough.

"Look here, Bridge. I do not give you constant admonitions about your choice of clientele, despite the abominable services they ask you to procure for them. Ok, some, but still. It's hardly appropriate for you to show mock concern for my well-being at this late stage in our relationship."

"Fair enough, I'm a cocksucker. I'm also your boss. And your friend." The last part barely made it out of Bridge's mouth.

Aristotle picked absentmindedly at the bottle's label. "Friend. Heh. How does the saying go? With friends like these…"

"All I'm saying is this drinking thing, however much or little you can handle, it's affecting your work. You're always late. You want to ruin your liver, that's your call. But I need you on point, especially right now. No telling how many motherfuckers got a bead on my back and that shit last night added a whole bunch more, I'm sure. I don't want to end up dead because you want to forget Boulder."

The giant's eyes flashed white-hot with a barely constrained anger. "Don't you fucking dare talk to me about Boulder. You're the one that wants to forget it, just gloss it over and never talk about it again. You're the one trying to spackle over the deaths of 30,000 people."

"I didn't kill those people, the technomancers did."

"No, you're the one using those deaths to build… I'm not even entirely sure what you are building with that yet. A religion? A mighty mystical magical pyramid scheme? What do I have to offer? You've got your pet wizard out there."

"Yeah, I got Mu. But he's not you. I need somebody there that can think their way out of something. If all I needed was somebody to blow shit up, it don't take a wizard to do that. I know plenty of guys with a fetish for explosions."

"Yeah, and I need my grandmother." Bridge caught the faintest hint of a strangled sob as his bodyguard turned his face away. And that was the crux of the problem right there, all laid out for both to see. No more dancing around it, no more talking around the problem like it didn't exist.

"I'm sorry, brother," Bridge stumbled. The words stuck in his throat. He didn't do guilt, and this was one huge pile of guilt.

"Don't. Just don't. You got to see her. You got to talk to her. You can tell me she said what she said, but frankly, I don't believe you. You have this way of saying exactly what you think you need to, and it's only the truth when that will aid your agenda more than a well-crafted lie. So do not bullshit me."

"But that's what she said," Bridge pleaded. He wasn't actually lying this time, but he supposed he deserved Aristotle's mistrust.

"It doesn't matter. She's gone and you are here and the persons responsible for her death are free and clear and I'm aiding and abetting that freedom. There's nothing to be proud of in that. Every day I keep that secret, it's another day I'm every bit as culpable in her death as the technomancers. Now you want to tell me how to make that right, I'm all ears."

Bridge had nothing. "I don't have any answers for you, brother."

"Then do not presume to give me any life advice." He slammed another swig from the bottle and sealed it. Without another word, he stalked into the shower, only the slightest hint of a stagger in his step.

The day was a long one. Bridge's attempts to make contact with El Diablos would have been tough no matter the situation. The early hour didn't help. Most of his contacts didn't wake until after noon. On the day after the gang starts what would likely be the biggest militia action since the riots, the street crews were ghosts. Bridge made the rounds at all the best and worst bars, making contact with the bartenders, owners, waitresses and bouncers. Some places he hadn't visited in weeks, but they nevertheless greeted him with open arms. Even the bars that weren't open until the sun went down opened their doors to him these days, as the main pipeline to the technomancers and their miracle Glowbugs. Everywhere he went, help was offered, but no one could promise him even a phone call with the lowliest street soldier.

The sun's rays were contracting as Bridge and his crew sat in the Louie Lou, a crumbling diner on the edge of the Warehouse District with great coffee and abysmal grease piles disguised as food. Bridge rummaged through a plate of barely meaty meatloaf ruefully, his mind tumbling through contacts like a spinning rolodex. He had almost reached the end of his considerable resources. Hitting up his competing go-to guys appeared to be the only viable option. He fucking hated those assholes. There was Benes'n'Franks, a twitchy Spainish Jew with the worst breath. He could try the Owl, if the Owl would take his calls. After that deal for a shipment of black market cyberware replacement parts went tits up, Bridge was the Owl's least favorite person. Sammy Samir would still speak to Bridge as far as he knew.

"I'll give Samir a call," Bridge said out loud to no one in particular, as if Aristotle and Mu had been conversing with his thoughts.

"That would be rather difficult," Aristotle replied. "I believe he has met his maker."

"Capped? Who would cap Samir?"

"His ex-wife. Actually, three of his ex-wives if the stories are to be believed."

"Shit." Bridge stuffed another forkful of meatloaf into his mouth, scowling sourly before tossing the fork back into the plate. "I'm out of ideas, brother."

Aristotle pointed behind Bridge with a sarcastic smile. "Don't look now, but your day is about to get much more fruitless."

Bridge sat up with a start, turning to see the problem Aristotle indicated. Sid Tobin walked purposefully towards him with eyes lit up. Sid was the worst kind of musical poseur that lived, the kind of fame-chasing twit always one or two trend waves behind. He had no real musical viewpoint of his own, yet he was convinced that some label would be willing to sign him for a publishing deal, to make him the next big star. He had tried everything: anime nip-hop, emodouche, '70's prog rock and many, many others. Sid changed styles like Bridge changed underwear. Based on his current appearance, the new thing was last month's technosalsa. Sid wore a garish zoot suit, head-to-toe black velvet with digital sparkle patterns running all through the fabric, a huge white collar sticking out of the jacket, topped off with a Rat Pack style black hat with a six-inch peacock feather stuck in the brim. He would look ridiculous on the stage, much less out on the street, but Sid was one of those rare types so lacking in self-awareness that he actually believed he looked cool. Bridge shook his head and rubbed the ache out of his temples.

"Sid, you look fucking ridiculous," Bridge began. "What the fuck is this style you are sporting? Did the ghost of pimp Jesus possess you this morning?"

"Naw man, this suit is the shiz. Dean Martin meets Joseph's Technicolor Raincoat or some shit."

"Do you even know who Dean Martin is?"

"I Pedia'ed, G." Sid sat down with nervous excitement, his eyes wide with glee. Sid had something, something Bridge wanted written all over his face.

"Is that glitter eye shadow?"

"Yeah, man, this completes the look, you know? Chicks dig a brother can get in touch with his feminine side."

"Your feminine side is a tranny hooker named Sparkles?" Mu couldn't help snickering at the insult, but Sid ignored it completely. He was used to Bridge's insults. "What do you want, Sid? I'm kinda busy today."

"Yeah, I know, I heard. You're trying to get in with El Diablos."

"That's correct." Bridge's eyes narrowed. "What do you know about it?"

The grin split Sid's face from ear to ear. "I got an in."

Bridge sighed and covered his eyes. "This is serious, Sid. If you are fucking with me, Aristotle over there is going to show you how far up your ass a shoe can be lodged before you taste sole."

"I'm not fucking with you, Bridge. I got an in with El Diablos."

"I'm listening."

"My cousin runs a Trip board on the 'Net, see. All the hackers what's on this board can get the hookup for their Trip habits, and all the suppliers that post on the board are Diablos dealers."

Bridge finished the thought. "And your cousin had to get vetted by Diablos to post about dealer locations, so he's met with at least somebody on the Shotcaller level. You're telling me your cousin can get me in with a Shotcaller."

"Yeah, yeah, that's what I'm telling you! He owes me a bunch of favors, 'cos I got my mom to pay for the GlobalNet space. She thinks it's some music board, which it sort of is 'cos I got the Trip heads hooked on my demos. They love my shit."

"Get 'em racing on that Trip shit and they'll swear they see ghosts in the GlobalNet. Trip heads aren't known for their taste in music."

"Or hygiene," Mu added.

Aristotle piled on. "Or sanity."

Sid waved an annoyed hand at the bodyguards. "Yeah, yeah, but this is your in, Bridgey!"

"Don't call me Bridgey."

"Sorry." Sid stared at Bridge expectantly, his eyes begging for the words of affirmation to spill from Bridge's lips.

Bridge sighed again. Sid had him over a barrel. "What do you want, Sid?"

"You know what I want, Bridge. I want you to make an A&R guy listen to my demos. ALL my demos."

"Sid, you have like thirty demos. Every one of them is a different style. You're like a human karaoke machine. He's going to be clawing his eyes out by the time he gets to the nip-hop."

"I'm serious, Bridge, all of them. He hears my entire body of work or nothing."

Bridge silently cursed Stonewall for charging him with this task, and Sid for finally getting enough of a spine to insist with such fervor. The worst part was that Bridge had no illusions that the meeting would make any difference. He was convinced that no matter how persuasive he could be, El Diablos had no interest in any kind of peace treaty. They were out for Los Magos blood, and Stonewall's prohibition against retaliation made sure that El Diablos had nothing to fear from denying peace. Bridge would be lucky if they let him walk out of the meeting without a beatdown or worse.

"Set it up, Sidney."

Sid had a mini-fit, pumping his fists in the air and whooping with joy. Bridge calmed him down. "It's got to be tonight, Sid, or you get nothing. I don't have a lot of time to make this happen, got it?"

"You'll have it, I swear. You're not gonna regret this."

"I already regret it, Sid. Now get to it." Sid dashed out of the diner rubbing his hands together gleefully.

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